Enneagram Series: Type Three
~converting vice to virtue on the path of personal transformation
The fundamental proposition of the enneagram personality typology system is that Essence is a process of becoming and personality is a conditioned, habitual pattern of response. Self-awareness is the key that unlocks the lid of the conditioned pattern of each type, so that one may climb out of the personality box and join the flow of Life or Essence. This is the goal of utilizing the enneagram for personal growth through ego transcendence.
This is the third article in a series reviewing the core features of each enneagram type.
The Performer or The Need to Succeed
“. . . the most characteristic emotional state and at the same time the one that underlies the characteristic interest in display to the point of self-falsification is a need for attention: a need to be seen, that was once frustrated and seeks to be satisfied through the cultivation of appearance.” (Naranjo, 1990, p. 53)
Claudio Naranjo named type Three, “Success Through Appearances,” and Oscar Ichazo called this disposition, “Ego-Go.” Threes are confident, adaptable, goal-oriented, and often charismatic exemplars of achievement. For Threes, image is everything and there is always work to do. Workaholism and competitiveness are constant temptations for the Three. They are chameleons who, ironically, just want to be loved for who they truly are. A type Three may say, “Value is determined by success and presenting an admirable image. Feelings get in the way of accomplishing goals.” When aligned with Essence, Threes are inspirational role models who are genuine and sincere. The invitation for Threes is to cultivate their gifts and lead by example. The holy idea of type Three is Holy Harmony/Holy Hope, which states that reality is unfolding objectively, so that joining with the flow of life brings hope.
Like Twos, Threes are part of the heart triad who try to manage emotions, most readily feel shame, and have hidden hostility. According to enneagram developers, Riso and Hudson (1999), in childhood, Threes, “. . . most wanted attention: to be seen and validated by their parents” (p. 63). Self-image is important in the feeling triad, and these types present the image that they think will get them the validation and approval for which they long.
Three’s vice or passion is deceit (to paint a pretty picture), and their mental fixation is vanity or the desire to impress/self-promotion. Helen Palmer, enneagram expert, described the Three’s focus of attention as, “convergent thinking.” which emphasizes task completion and assimilates information from past and present circumstances to arrive at solutions. Threes typically create the truth based on what is acceptable to their self-image, adopt this truth as reality, and then communicate this version to others. Three’s deception is first self-deception. According to Riso and Hudson (1999), the internalized message is, “It’s not okay to have your own feelings and identity” (p. 31). While Naranjo suggested that type Three is not associated with a known personality or mental health disorder, in pathological terms, the author correlated unhealthy Threes with type A personality, vanity and a marketing orientation, and the defense mechanisms of identification and negation.
Type Three’s basic fear is of being valueless and without inherent worth, and their basic desire is to have value, which can lead to the endless pursuit of success. Threes identify with a self-image that meets the expectations of others and most want to hear that they are loved for who they are, rather than what they do. They resist acknowledging feelings of self-judgment and emptiness; desiring, instead, to be seen as poised, commendable, efficient, and effective.
Threes attempt to solve inner conflict by being assertive. They hold their position and expand their egos when challenged. Threes defend against loss and disappointment by being competent. They prioritize being non-reactive, objective, efficient, and capable and minimize consideration of their own feelings, taking cues from others regarding what might be appropriate emotions. The thought is, “There’s an efficient solution to this — we just need to get to work” (Riso & Hudson, 1999, p. 68).
When Threes handle stress unskillfully, they move toward the unhealthy Nine. They burn-out and disengage from the world, becoming distant and seemingly apathetic. When Threes respond maturely, they learn to invest more in relationships and introspection, becoming reflective, inner-guided, loyal team-players, like healthy Sixes. At their most mature, Threes embrace the virtue of authenticity and embody fundamental value.
The path of growth for Threes is toward genuine self-expression. Threes must practice telling themselves the truth about how they really feel and acting on that truth unashamedly. Ultimately, Threes must learn to own their authentic dignity.
Coming soon: Enneagram Type Four
Almaas, A. H. (2000). Facets of unity: The enneagram of holy ideas. Shambhala Publications.
Chestnut, B. (2013). The complete Enneagram: 27 paths to greater self-knowledge. She Writes Press.
Hudson, R. (2021). The enneagram: Nine gateways to presence [Audiobook]. Sounds True. https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Nine-Gateways-Presence/dp/1683645790#:~:text=With%20The%20Enneagram%3A%20Nine%20Gateways,self%2Dknowledge%20and%20spiritual%20attunement.
Lilly, J. C., & Hart, J. E. (1975). The Arica Training. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal psychologies, (pp. 329–351). Harper & Row.
Naranjo, C. (1994). Character and neurosis: An integrative view. Gateways/IDHHB.
Naranjo, C. (1990). Ennea-type structures: Self-analysis for the seeker. Gateways/IDHHB Incorporated.
Palmer, H. (1988). The enneagram: Understanding yourself and the others in your life. Harper & Row.
Riso, D. R., & Hudson, R. (1999). The wisdom of the Enneagram: The complete guide to psychological and spiritual growth for the nine personality types. Bantam.
May your mind be peaceful and calm, may your body be relaxed and comfortable, and may your heart be filled with love.
Thank you for reading.
Blessings and gratitude, Ani